Listened to an NPR radio show yesterday on obesity and the culprit the guest said was driving obesity in America: carbohydrates. Dr. David Ludwig talked about the notion that carbs, so prevalent in today’s fast food and packaged food diets, are the big difference in why so many people are fat.
Thirty or forty years ago, carb intake along with eating habits were different. In the craze to remove fat from our diet, we’ve substituted fat with carbs through the form of more sugars, extra gums and fillers, breads and pastas, ingredients that are difficult to metabolize and end up stored as fat. He also says that changing from a carb-heavy diet is extra difficult. The body senses carbs are being removed, and therefore, reduces metabolic rates in order to preserve carbohydrates. In other words, you’re fat before, you’re fat still if you try to cut carbs. And God forbid if you go back to the old carb intake, as your body will ratchet up the fats stores even more. Ludwig even said various fruits and vegetables were not helpful either. I think he’s basically saying a balance is needed. Don’t replace all of your starchy stuff with fruits and veggies, as that can pile on carbs as well. Hmmmm.
One thing that Ludwig mentioned briefly was the idea that cutting down on grain-based foods, even whole grains, would be a good thing in helping the body escape the sea of carbs. In fact, he even said that there is no real biological reason that the body needs grains. He said humans really did not start eating grains until relatively recently–a few thousand years ago–and had lived fine before without them. That really threw me. I’ve been viewing whole grains–the 12-grain bread, the multigrain natural cereal–as something good for you. I’ve always thought whole grains feed the good bacteria in your digestive tract, essential for good immune health.
Yet, there are people who swear cutting grain-based foods out of the diet–sticking to healthy fats and proteins plus some plant-based foods–is the key to changing your health. Read this article to see what I mean (How Grains Are Killing You Slowly).
Now, I’m more confused than ever. If I went on a 90-day grain purge, I’m sure I’d probably peel off some pounds and trim up. But I’ll bet if I ate one sandwich after that, that would trigger a balloon effect and also probably make me crave more of the breads that I’d missed. What to do?
My educated layman’s guess is to strive for balance and moderation (funny how balance always seems to be pretty sensible in most things in life). Most people could stand to cut down the grain and sugar-based carbs and ramp up the fruits and veggies. But swinging heavily one way–all meat, like the Atkins diet, or nothing but carrots for weeks on end, like Steve Jobs did–is not the way to go. And portion control is also as much of a key as anything. Three meals a day, a couple nutritious snacks, but not stuffing yourself at any meal.